The first round of group games in Euro 2008 is complete, and everybody's talking about two teams — Holland and Spain.
Many pundits, myself included, predicted that the Netherlands would struggle in their impossibly tough group. But they confounded their critics with a magnificent display, beating world champions Italy 3-0. Their first goal, scored by Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, was highly controversial because he appeared to be clearly offside. Commentators and fans agreed that the goal should never have stood, but UEFA have since found a section of the official rule book which suggests the linesman got it right. Italian defender Christian Panucci, who was lying on his back behind the goal, apparently played van Nistelrooy onside because he hadn't asked the referee for permission to leave the pitch. But many fans aren't convinced by this interpretation, so the debate continues.
There was no doubt over Holland's second and third goals, both wonderful examples of counter-attack football scored by Holland's best two players of the night, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The Dutch have already achieved more than many expected, so who knows what they can achieve now? In contrast, reports suggest that the Italian squad is furious with coach Roberto Donadoni, and they face a major challenge if they are to qualify for the next round.
Elsewhere in Group C, France were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw with Romania in one of the poorest games so far. Romania were understandably playing for a draw, and the French attack was unable to create many chances, or take them. France will now have to beat either high-flying Holland, or world champions Italy, to have any chance of progressing.
Spain provided the other big thrill of the first round of games, demolishing Guss Hiddink's Russia side 4-1. The star of the show was Valencia striker David Villa, who scored a stunning hat-trick. The other goal was scored by Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas, who came on as a substitute late in the game. The fact that he didn't start shows the remarkable strength of Spain's midfield, and Barcelona duo Xavi and Iniesta were wonderful in the middle against the Russians. Liverpool striker Fernando Torres also had a great game, so the Villa-Torres combination is looking ominously dangerous at this stage. Russia, for whom Pavyluchenko scored a late consolation, were shocking in defence, though they looked good in attack.